Glasgow Warriors opened their 2014-15 Guinness Pro12 campaign with classy but ultimately nervy victory over reigning champions Leinster at Scotstoun. Last year’s two finalists returned to face each other in the opening round but it was Glasgow who dominated for the majority of the match to reap revenge on an agonising final defeat in May.
Gregor Townsend’s men looked to come into the new campaign building on an impressive previous two and they did some with aplomb. Straight out of the blocks, the home side were on the offensive and Leinster – for all their experience and class themselves – looked out of their depth and nervy.
Despite the loss of Brian O’Driscoll to retirement, Leinster are still a formidable force; but they didn’t look it in the opening forty minutes. Lethargic in attack and lacklustre in defence, the defending champions spent much of their time in their own half. Glasgow on the other hand, looked more than comfortable with ball in hand and demonstrated calm and fearlessness in front of their conquerors from last season.
And it wasn’t long before the first try of the match was scored. From a Leinster scrum that looked dominant, Glasgow somehow managed to win it against the head. From then on class oozed out of the back line of the hosts. Henry Pyrgos whipped the ball out to centre Alex Dunbar who shimmied and burst through the Irish defence. The ball then went through the hands of Chris Fusaro, then Pyrgos and finally on to Tommy Seymour who, after nearly being bundled into touch threw a dainty, if speculative pass inside for fly-half Peter Horne to touch down. Pyrgos then converted from the touch line to take the hosts into well deserved 7-0 lead.
Glasgow, instead of waiting for a Leinster fight back, pressed on immediately and they were soon back down in the Irish half. A set piece line-out instigated a powerful driving maul towards the line; the move brilliantly finished off by second row Jonny Gray, who scrambled under the pile of bodies to get the Warriors’ second score in ten minutes. Unbelievably, Glasgow were now 12-0 in front; Leinster already looking the beaten side.
Josh Strauss, captain in the absence of Al Kellock played a storming match; and he too would get on the score sheet before half time. Latching onto a loose ball from Sean Cronin, Strauss found acres of space in front of him and sprinted home from the 10 metre line to cruise in under the posts. Pyrgos converted again and Glasgow now astonishingly led 19-0.
Leinster’s comeback had to start soon and they were eventually given an easy opportunity to break their 2014-15 duct with Iain Madigan slotting a penalty from 15 metres out. But Glasgow could have, and probably should have claimed their fourth – and bonus point – try on the stroke of half time. Pyrgos had made a darting breakaway and looked set for the line, but to be called back for a penalty. A penalty which, from long distance drifted wide; an opportunity to bury the game was lost.
The game thereafter was very much a stop start encounter with neither side really finding any continuity. Jimmy Gopperth reduced the deficit by another three points to make it 19-6.
Leinster had few real chances to get over the Glasgow line, but found themselves in some much needed territory nine minutes from the end. A penalty line-out just five metres out saw them drive a maul over; Jack McGrath touching down for the visitors. Suddenly, it became 19-13 with the Gopperth conversion; all to play for.
And perhaps just as Glasgow were beginning to dream of the dressing room post victory, Leinster struck back once more. A clever territorial kick by Gopperth pushed the hosts back to within five metres of their own line. A miss throw by Pat MacArthur found no-one but Tom Denton who crashed over from short distance. Now just one point behind, Gopperth landed a beautiful conversion from out wide to miraculously take the lead.
Glasgow now looked the desperate side, and the nerves showed. Leinster were stronger in defence in the closing stages and Glasgow struggled to find any forward momentum. Despite this, they managed to push their way up the field and with Leinster drifting offside; Glasgow had a chance to close out the match. Or not as it turned out. With time almost up, it seemed stupid to kick for touch when a penalty kick would suffice, but they did.
Winning their own line-out, Glasgow drove towards the line. Replacement scrum half Niko Matawalu fed his forwards who tried to barge their way in front of the posts. With Stuart Hogg in the pocket, surely a drop goal was on the cards? No, still Glasgow went for the try. Perhaps not seeing the clock or hearing the referee Nigel Owens earlier, Glasgow were content on playing for the bonus point try. Eventually, Leinster were caught offside once more and despite Matawalu trying to take another quick penalty, it was up to Hogg to seal the win once and for all.
The Lions and Scotland full back did so with ease from ten metres out and Glasgow took the victory. A sweet revenge from an agonising final defeat in Dublin earlier in the year, the hosts will look to build on this moral boosting win. For Leinster, they will be content with the away fixture losing bonus point, and the confidence that they should have probably won the encounter.